Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Top Ten Christmas Paintings

10. Kitten Christmas, 2010, Carol Chretien.
High marks for originality, lower marks for Christmas relevance. That's why it's number ten on the list.

I started off intending to present the top ten Christmas paintings of this year, 2016 but then was reminded of a fact I'd known for quite sometime--artists and critics care little for dates when dealing with contemporary art. I mean, who cares if a painting was done in 2014 or 2016, right? Thus, I've had to settle for presenting the top ten recent Christmas paintings. That would suggest that I'm at least talking about works done in this century, which sounds a bit grandiose. My guess is that all these seen here (with one exception) were done in the past five years, which seems a reasonable time frame.
9. Fractal Christmas, Omron. High marks for originality as well as abstract Christmas spirit and color. Low marks for a total lack of a Christmas narrative. I know, This stretches the definition of painting, but in the 21st-century, that's a positive factor.
Having disposed of that matter, some may wonder how I'm such an expert on Christmas painting to be both judge and jury in selecting a top ten listing. I've painted about a dozen such works over the years. One of them, He's Making a List (bottom) dates from as far back as 1971, though it wasn't my first such effort. I know, that doesn't sound like many but it's somewhat more than most painters. Beyond that, as a high school art instructor, I spent twenty-six years evaluating student art. With a set of explicit criteria, it's not easy, but quite doable. That brings us to the criteria. I've place a high emphasis on originality of concept. That's extremely important in that such originality is quite difficult to achieve in a genre that has been so overworked in the past. It's difficult to eliminate Santa, Christmas decorations, sleigh rides, playing children, snowmen, and a dozen more iconic elements so common in such paintings, but I've made the effort, or at least demanded a fresh approach in dealing with such content.
8. Boy and Dog with a Christmas Tree, unknown artist. A bit trite, but substituting a boy instead of a father and kids hauling the tree through the snow on his little red wagon counts for something.
And finally, I've made every effort to choose paintings with a direct reference to Christmas. A winter snow scene, even with warm lighted, Thomas-Kinkade-type cottages, and gift-laden kinfolk does not equate to Christmas, just as the songs Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland, Baby, It's Cold Outside, Let It Snow, or even Jingle Bells, have nothing to do with Christmas. I'm well aware that selections number 10 (top) and number 9 are weak in this regard, but that's why they're at the bottom of the list. When possible, I've included the actual title and artist of the paintings.

7. Christmas Eve Walk, Russell Cobane. Christmas Eve
or not, a dog has certain..."needs."
Christmas paintings are rife with suburban street scenes of snow and Victorian homes alive with warm, amber windows. I've not included any such works simply because they're so common and often amount to little more than pretty pictures rather than involving the human element with Christmas overtones such as Christmas Eve Walk (above), by Russell Cobane. At least he didn't show the dog demonstrating the need for such a yuletide outing. Okay, this one is pretty, but not syrupy sweet.

6. Christmas in Washington, Paul McGehee. This one rates high for originality, despite the iconic content.
Christmas in Washington (above), is a worthy Christmas scene, yet it does have some problems. In observing the carolers' clothes, they would appear to be from the 19th century. However, the electric Christmas tree lights didn't appear on exterior White House trees until sometime after 1900. Also, the White House is depicted with the Truman Balcony, which dates back only as far as the 1950s. Santa's outfit is a bit too 20th-century as well. This painting is, in fact, burdened with several other anachronisms.

5. Adoration of the Magi, Marcello Corti.
Marcello Corti's Adoration of the Magi (above) comes in fifth on the list for its relatively original composition, color, and approach to a biblical scene about as shopworn as they come. I like the fact that the number of magi appears to be rather ambiguous, just as is the Bible. This is the first of two scenes by Corti on the list. This artist has painted dozens, perhaps hundreds of Christmas oriented works, many with a surprising degree of originality.

4. Little Girl Looking Downstairs At Christmas Party,
Norman Rockwell.
What would a list of Christmas paintings be without a Norman Rockwell? This is not, obviously, a recent work by a living artist, and it's just as obviously dated in appearance (probably from the early 1950s). However, as compared to other Christmas art, both now and then, its concept displays an originality in in thinking and approach which sets it apart from even most of Rockwell's many other Christmas works. It's often said that Christmas is for and about children. Rockwell deftly pokes fun at this hypocrisy.

3. Saint Nicholas Feeds the Horses, unknown artist.
By far, Saint Nicholas Feeds the Horses (above) is the most
beautiful of all the paintings on the list. It's also quite an original, little-used image. Notice, we're not depicting Santa Claus here but his original incarnation as a Catholic saint imbued with the highest ideals of Christmas love and giving.

2. Memories At Rockefeller, Robert Finale

The extremes between my number 2 choice (above) and number 3, were such that I debated long and hard between the two rankings. St. Nicholas is the epitome of the selfless Christmas spirit while the opulent extravagance of New York City's Rockefeller Center Plaza is just the opposite. The latter is Christmas NOW, the former is Christmas THEN. Which is the better depiction of Christmas?

1. Nativity, Marcello Corti
Of course the number one Christmas painting on the list would have to be a nativity. This one is also by Marcello Corti, seemingly the number one authority on the subject. There would be no Christmas without this iconic scene painted by (it would seem) just about every painter on earth. Because of that, and the fact that this scene centers on Joseph, rather than the traditional mother of Christ, I chose it as number one. The couple look holy, yet con-temporary. Also, the painting style is looser, more painterly, than most such scenes.

Copyright, Jim Lane
He's Making a List, 1971, Jim Lane.
You mean Santa doesn't use a
Christmas catalog?
I'm sure no one will agree completely with my ranking order. Some might even did-pute the inclusion of certain works. That's good. That means you're employing the gift of critical thinking. That might, arguably, be a gift from God to mankind second only to his son, who was almost certainly not born on Christ-mas Day.


No comments:

Post a Comment